Thursday, October 14, 2010

Charles and Emma

Really, I don't remember a thing about Madame Bovary. Something about adultery. I remember being bored by it when I read it 22 years ago. I don't remember whether I admired Emma, despised or pitied her. I don't know which of those I'm supposed to do.

Well, it's very readable. (Except for the seemingly random italics — very distracting.) I don't know if that's a function of Lydia Davis's translation, or maybe just because over the years I've learned to read better (or I'm more tolerant, or more discerning). At any rate, it's not boring. I was really afraid it would be very boring. It's not.

[What's the deal with first communion? Was it different back in the day, or in France? Charles is 12 when he begins his studies, and his parents are waiting till after his first communion before sending him off. Later at the wedding, a girl of 14 or 16 is wearing her communion dress, lengthened for the occasion. I wouldn't've given it much thought but for that Davis includes a note about children usually aged about 7 being prepared for this sacrament. The French text is clearly "première communion" but it sounds like confirmation might be what's meant. Either way I think Davis's note is lacking.]

Charles seems like a nice enough fellow. A bit, mmm, unambitious, maybe, but harmless, nice. Oh, but Charles totally loves her!

Emma seems hard to reach, hard to know, through her placid exterior.

Aïe! The first wife's wedding bouquet still in the bedroom! How thoughtless! This must be a sign.

Before her marriage, she had believed that what she was experiencing was love; but since the happiness that should have resulted from that love had not come, she thought she must have been mistaken. And Emma tried to find out just what was meant, in life, by the words "bliss," "passion," and "intoxication," which had seemed so beautiful to her in books.

Emma was ruined by romances, and the idea of grand gestures. (That's a weird passage, the shift to second person, "And you were there, too, you sultans...")

I love this sentence: "Charles's conversation was as flat as a sidewalk, and everyone's ideas walked along it in their ordinary clothes, without inspiring emotion, or laughter, or reverie." (Mind, sidewalks can be most interesting.)

Oh, she's not happy, is she? Bored, and attracted to shiny things. But I think there's a bit more to it than that, some kind of void she needs to fill. I do like her, and condemn her, and pity her.

Here ends Madame Bovary, Part 1.

12 comments:

Frances said...

What is it about this book that none of seem to remember our first readings? This is not true of other books. I can quote sections of Gatsby or Moby Dick, both of which i have not re-read for years. Hmm.

Want to look into the italics thing too. Saw somewhere (where?) that the Davis restoration of Flaubert's italics was an appreciated touch but have no idea why. Anybody?

SFP said...

I'm a little embarrassed to admit that your title didn't remind of Charles and Emma Bovary but of Charles and Emma Darwin. (Now would be a good time to mention how little sleep I got last night.) Isn't there a new book or movie out about the Darwins with the title Charles and Emma?

At first I thought Davis was using the italics to alert readers to the notes at the back of the book, but I quickly realized that notion wasn't correct. At least they tipped me off so that I found the notes.

Emily said...

Davis writes that Flaubert was using the italics to

"[draw] attention to the language that was commonly, and unthinkingly, used to express shared ideas that were also unquestioned. Some, such as new boy, are relatively innocuous; others may reveal a malevolent prejudice, such as the comment made by Madame Tuvache, the mayor's wife, to her maid (reported as indirect speech), when she learns that Emma has taken a walk alone with Léon: Madame Bovary was compromising herself."

I kind of can't believe previous translators left them out; they seemed pretty integral as I was working along in the French.

I have no idea about first communion, though - can't help you there! ;-)

Isabella said...

Thanks, Emily. I'm consulting a French edition occasionally, but the italics don't match up -- it's an ebook, so the formatting isn't necessarily reliably faithful. I'm glad to know Davis is using them true to Flaubert's original. (I have not yet read Davis's introduction because I remember this book so little that I don't want spoilers -- not sure if that's where you have that info from.)

I'm just winding down from the work week and reading through everyone's posts now!

Buried In Print said...

I love that 'sidewalk' quote, too; it's just the kind of thing that I would have flagged, so I'm wondering if it's rather different in my translation. Similarly a nice bit about 'knives' caught my eye in the translation I'm reading, but when I went to find the same 'knives' passage online, I kept bypassing it because it didn't seem half as lovely in that translation (or was it simply being on a screen rather than on the page perhaps).

JoAnn said...

Those italics were annoying me, too - glad I'm not alone. I don't remember them from the old translation, and after reading Emily's comment I'm surprised they were left out. Thanks, Emily... I'm thinking I should go back and read the intro now instead of saving it for last!

Anthony said...

That word 'sidewalk' jars. In Europe we have pavements, but somehow the word wouldn't have worked quite as well.

First Holy Communion is huge in France, if anything bigger than confirmation day. It is seven years old for First Holy Communion and twelve or so for Confirmation.

Shelley (Book Clutter) said...

I also thought of Charles and Emma Darwin when I saw your title. SFP, there is a really good young adult non-fiction book called Charles and Emma. I don't know if they're making a movie of it or not.
The wedding bouquet! That was horrible. I don't get the idea that he loves her so much as considers her a cool new plaything. More of an infatuation. But then they hardly even knew each other.
It is very readable. I'm looking forward to more.

Richard said...

Isabella, Emma does seem hard to reach. And while Flaubert seems to belittle Charles for his frequent napping (confession: I like a good nap myself, so I may be biased here!), I get the idea Emma doesn't much want to share Charles' company anyway. So who's at fault for Emma's boredom? I started part two today and am no nearer an answer to this random question of mine than I was a few chapters ago. Loving the digressions on reading and readers. Not loving the italics either, though.

irisonbooks said...

I think in genersl (but this is from a modern perspective) first communion is the bigger event for most Catholics. I remember looking at all my classmates who got new dresses and gifts because of their first communion and sighing over the fact that my parents raised me as an atheist. No, not really, but I was jealius of the dresses/gifts. At the age of Confirmation, it wasn't such a big deal as the First Communion was.

Isabella said...

I completely understand the big deal First Communion is (I was raised Catholic). What I have an issue with is the discrepancy in ages: 12-year-old Charles waiting till after his first communion; a 16-year-old girl wearing her First Communion dress. That doesn't jive, unless the tradition was vastly different at Flaubert's time. Maybe it says something about this class of people that the rite should be delayed? Or else Flaubert meant simply Confirmation, and Davis's note falls short on explanation.

Shelley: I still think Charles loves Emma, as much as he can. He's proud to have her by his side, he indulges her, he sides with her over his own mother. He's not the type to pick up playthings, he would never discard her casually.

Richard: I didn't notice that much napping, but then I spent most of yesterday napping, so I may have missed some details in my reading. I've read ahead now, too, and she doesn't like his company much when she has better things to occupy her, but she does make the occasional effort. I'm still sympathetic toward both Charles and Emma. Neither of them are to fault for her boredom; I'm quite convinced the boredom is simply in her nature.

Marie said...

Great post. I'm enjoying the book so far and I love how Flaubert is gradually building her character.